'The perfect time to start': how book clubs are enduring and flourishing during Covid-19

Guardian Technology 26 Mar 2020 01:45
Robert Macfarlane in the Cairngorms. This week the author is leading a book club about Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. Photograph: Michael Pappas

My book club was the first to concede defeat. Before my gym, hair salon and therapist accepted that there could be no more business as usual as the coronavirus took hold in the UK, the host of my book club got in touch to say that our March meet-up was off.

The news came as no great surprise. Despite best-laid plans to meet every six weeks, our activity had always been sporadic -our last meeting was in December. We had not even settled on our next book yet, such was our preemptive commitment to self-isolation. As our host said, the book club had already been in quarantine for months.

As the Covid-19 crisis has confined us to our homes, a sliver of a silver lining (entirely inadequate, of course, but we look for them all the same) is that it has provided a chance to catch up on our reading. Being mostly solitary and indoors, it is one of the few pursuits that remain unchanged in this new world, while affording us access to others. With every connected device a potential portal for anxiety, it may never have felt so necessary to escape into the printed word.

“Literature has always done such an extraordinary job of provoking community and conversation – it’s no surprise to me that it should be doing so, so powerfully now,” says Macfarlane.

Shepherd wrote the slender volume during the second world war, and her reflections on love, loss and goodness are set against a backdrop of distant disaster. Macfarlane calls it a “book of beauty born of crisis”, with echoes of the one that we are currently facing; but, as the first choice for #CoReadingVirus, it is “neither a work of escapism nor a work that confronts” coronavirus head-on.

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CoReadingVirusMacfarlaneRobert MacfarlaneNan Shepherd